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Student Trades Dolls, Frills for Chrome

Enrolls in New Autobody Technology Program at Morrisville State College
MORRISVILLE, N.Y.¬— Gripping a screwdriver, Erika Gilberti leaned under the hood of the car and focused intently on removing the tiny screws that secured the thin metal frame fastening the headlight. With a little coaching, she replaced it with a shiny new lamp and aimed its beams.

Installing headlights was a first for Gilberti. In upcoming weeks, she’ll be learning all about replacing door panels, refinishing, paints, electronics, and will eventually get her hands into actual collision repair.

Gilberti is among the first class of students in Morrisville State College’s new associate degree program in autobody technology and is its only female student.

The 24-year-old Syracuse resident knew little about cars when she enrolled. With a mother as a nurse and a father as a lawyer, a career in the automotive industry was the furthest thing from her mind—she didn’t grow up with matchbox cars, wasn’t a racing fan, played with Barbies and liked to dress in fancy clothes.

But somewhere along the way, dolls and frills took a back seat and chrome took over.

Gilberti can’t really gauge when her automotive enchantment started—whether it was a game she played in her mind to guess the make and model of approaching vehicles, when she started watching vehicle makeover shows or her fascination with fast cars and big trucks.

But it was compelling enough for her to enroll at Morrisville State College to pursue something she truly enjoys—cars.

“This inspires and challenges my mind,” said Gilberti, who’s getting versed in many areas through welding, autobody fundamentals and chassis classes she’s taking this semester.

Along with the degree comes a lineup of new courses—and a new set of digs.

Gilberti is among the first students to apprentice a new 13,000-square-foot autobody technology building souped-up with the most sophisticated equipment in the autobody industry, capable of tackling something as simple as a door ding to the most advanced repairs including structural repairs duplicating the factory welds.

“It contains the latest and greatest,” Gil Wistrup, instructor in the program, said.

Students will have everything they need to know under their belts by the time they graduate from the new program, which will have them skilled in the techniques of collision repair, refinishing and what goes into estimating auto collision repairs.

They’ll be expanding their vocabulary too, adding words like featheredge, high-strength steel, hue, value and chroma to their classroom and laboratory lingo while they’re being introduced to some of the most sophisticated equipment in the industry.

Inside the new facility, set up just like a real-world autobody shop, is a modern-day lab, rouged with multi-colored walls and a bright ceiling.

There’s superior air purification equipment, a laser measuring device capable of determining frame damage, and a top-of-the-line alignment machine on the way.

Amid an assemblage of dinged, dented and battered vehicles, many donated, is a Garmat paint booth, an environmentally friendly, superior down-draft paint spray booth that can dry a coat of paint in half the normal time.

DuPont and Parts Plus in Hamilton have teamed up in donating all of the paint mixing equipment including a computer and software that can tell the correct color for the vehicle by the identification number. They have also pledged another $5,000 in materials for the paint station for the next five years, according to Wistrup.

So far, painting is an element of the program that has fueled Gilberti’s artistic interest.

Attention to detail and a superior perception of color are some of the skills required to be successful in this aspect of autobody technology, according to Wistrup.

Fellow classmates are interested in other aspects of the field like body sheet metal work, frame work and management positions.

Whatever area they choose, “graduates will have hands-on experience and will have been exposed to everything they need to know, including mechanical and electrical skills that will make them highly employable,” Wistrup said.

Gilberti is intent on a career designing cars someday.

For now, she hopes to provide an example to other women that with the right amount of determination, they can accomplish anything.

That drive comes from her parents, William Gilberti Jr., of Skaneateles and Jane Gilberti, of Camillus, who instilled in her never to fear trying something new.

Graduates from the autobody technology degree are posed for jobs in specialized career areas in the collision repair industry. Students will become highly specialized technicians eligible to work in the areas of dealer/independent collision repair facilities as technicians, and to work in the retail/wholesale autobody shop equipment and paint supply insurance appraisal industries.

The curriculum includes a 10-week summer internship in collision repair that will prepare students for entry into the field of automotive collision repair as specialized technicians in areas such as tear-down and reassembly, frame straightening, metal work and refinishing.

Courses required for the degree will cover topics necessary to pass the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) examinations in the areas of collision repair and refinishing. ASE tests are a component of the national Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, the institute which oversees educational and technician certifications.

The new autobody program augments Morrisville State College’s existing automotive programs which include an associate degree in automotive technology as well as two bachelor degrees, a bachelor of technology degree in automotive technology management and a bachelor of business administration degree in automotive technology.

All of the college’s automotive programs offer students hands-on learning in the most technically advanced facilities in the industry and faculty are experts in the field and ASE certified in their respective teaching areas.

For more information about the new autobody degree, call 1-800-258-0111 or visit the college’s Web site at

Morrisville State College offers more than 75 bachelor and associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine.

The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers associate degree programs in accounting, business, computer systems technology, office administration, liberal arts transfer, nursing, early childhood, criminal justice and human services to south central New York residents and employers. Students may also apply coursework to other associate or bachelor degrees at the main campus.